Goodbye

I am leaving my church. And this isn’t some inane plea for me to stay, for me to stick it out, or for you to tell me that you love me and value me and want me there. I’m leaving. It is a statement of fact.

In a few hours I am heading to a church an hour away to see if I like it. I may or I may not. Two hours is a long way to drive for something I don’t love. I used to drive an hour and a half to get to the church I am currently a member of, when I lived further away. I did that because I loved it.

Love is a tricky thing. It doesn’t necessarily need to be two ways. I love my sunflower-yellow papasan chair that some friends gave me. It’s big and giant and I feel like I’m teeny when I sit in it. It doesn’t love me back, though. It’s just steady, and there.

I love my car, for as much grief as it gives me. It almost always starts, and it’s mine, and it’s one of the first big things that I got with entirely my own money. I’m proud of my car. And it carries me and my kayak and my sister and lots of books and a ton of trash. But it doesn’t love me back. (the argument could be made that it doesn’t even like me very much, but that’s OK).

But the church? Does it need to love you back? I think so.

I have put a lot of thought into this. Clearly I still love some part of the church.

But the church isn’t my big sunflower-yellow papasan chair, or my 1997 Subaru Outback wagon. Because the church, unlike my chair or my car, has to love me back.

I had a meeting with somebody last week. A person of power in my congregation. This was a bad meeting. I cried during it and I cried after. Prior to this meeting I had not given leaving the congregation any real thought since the weeks after our minister left. I had decided to stick it out. This meeting changed all of that.

I won’t say it’s the fault of the person who asked for the meeting. But she did articulate a lot of things that didn’t really put forward the church as a place I wanted or should be.

It started with me being accused of doing something to another member of the congregation that was in no way true. I was accused of yelling at a congregant who I have never spoken more than a vague pleasantry to. I explained that I was sorry that a certain situation was happening, but that I had nothing to do with it.

So what would you do about this situation if you were the minister?” she asked, knowing ministry is something I am considering. “I would have had 3 to 4 years of training to learn to deal with that.” I responded. She laughed. “I am not sure they teach that in seminary.” “I am sure they teach about inner-congregational conflict” I responded.

Then we started talking about the church in general.

When I brought up increasing YA membership I was told that they wouldn’t focus on it – not more than increasing any other demographic in the congregation. Ok, I thought, so it’s not a priority. Bummer.

And then the topic of our former minister came up. I was told that she only hurt the congregation. When I questioned this, stating that as a member of the congregation that was hurt only by the fact that she left, I was ignored.

And then I was told that the church would never get another minister who was “like” our former minister. Like her in preaching style, in ministry in general. They would not be getting somebody, in other words, who was similar to what I saw and experienced as really effective ministry.

And then? Then it came back around to me. To the fact that I am considering ministry. “Why?” she asked. “why do you want to go into ministry?” I stumbled for a minute, and said finally “it’s not really a want. I didn’t wake up and say, ‘I want to to be a minister.’ It’s more like something that just kept popping up until I finally agreed to at least look into it.” “Do you want to help people?” she asked. “that’s part of it.” “But not the difficult ones?” I didn’t respond. I never said that.

She kept asking questions, kept pushing back whenever I said anything. Finally I broke down crying. I tried to explain that going into ministry worries me. I look around and I don’t see too many genderqueer folks up in the pulpit. I have spent literal hours pouring over websites of UU congregations all over North America. I have googled and facebooked and twittered and read books and learned an awful lot in the past few months. There simply aren’t a ton of queer people in pulpits, compared to the percentage that appear to be UUA staff. So it’s not a WANT thing. I don’t WANT to make my life harder by picking a career in which my identity is likely to cause a lot of problems.

More was said. But I am assuming you all get the point. I don’t think the minister we had hurt the church, but I think that her leaving caused irreparable damage. I think it was a damn stupid move on the part of the church. I think it will not be easily repaired, or likely not repaired at all with current leadership. So I said I was done. I am leaving the church.

I don’t feel love when I walk in there anymore. There used to be this calming presence I felt when I walked in. The big, heavy doors that opened, the sanctuary, flooded with light even in winter from the windows all around. It was calming. Now it just feels like a building. That something that is missing?

Love.

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7 Comments to “Goodbye”

  1. I’m sorry you felt the need to do this. Trust me, I’ve been down that road myself. Hope your journey leads you to a nurturing community who will love you back.

  2. Ministry happens to you. Or at least that’s my experience. I certainly didn’t choose it, or to do it. It came and demanded of me. Not that I’m complaining about it (now). But at the stage you’re at, I’m not surprised that you can’t answer the why you ‘want’ to. And for some lay member to be demanding that of you strikes me as… strange. It’s worth knowing that ministers leave often congregations to try to protect the congregations, to avoid polarizing them. Sometimes that works… which is why it’s done. But more often, I suspect, the polarization is over other things and the conflict is only officially about the minister–it’s the iceberg above water, at most.

    (FWIW, our ministry is about as friendly as any are for genderqueer folk. Which isn’t to say that it’s great. But it’s getting better. If ministry is what you are called to–if, as one of my mentors said to me, this is something that you have to do–then do it.)

    They do teach about conflict and family/congregational systems. Some, at least.

    Still, at one level, I’d have to say that getting a minister “like” the one that left would likely be unhealthy. They’d step into the place the old one left and be reacted to as if they were that individual. But inspiring, and effective, and pastoral? All those things come in a remarkable range of styles.

    Best of luck finding a place where you feel you are home.

  3. I hope you grow to love this new church. And the woman you spoke with sounds like a nutjob. It is very possible that not everyone in your old church would agree with her. But if you’re ready to move on, go for it.

  4. If you’re thinking about ministry, and trying to make sense of this experience, you might be interested in reading Edwin Friedman’s book _Generation to Generation_. Some of what you’re describing sounds like it’s straight out of Friedman….

  5. Don’t know who you talked to, but I know that many people in the church do not share that sentiment.

  6. Here is some encouragement! I will keep you in my prayers, that you will have clarity in your discernment process. I started reading your blog this morning and have been thinking about it all day. I’m in ministry school myself, in a denomination that will never ordain me, and I can honestly say that it is still a most fulfilling and heartwrenching and beautiful path, full of potenial for growth. Listen hard for that call. Your church needs your voice and it needs you. The world needs you!

  7. Hi Andy – I’m coming to this late, having found this post from a link from a more recent post (Hello UUA? something like that). Of course I’m wondering what has happened in the ensuing months since you wrote this; sounds like you still haven’t found your home church. This grieves me, but I’m not surprised. You are absolutely what these stick-in-the-mud churches need! And don’t want. That must hurt.

    I want to encourage you to continue thinking about ministry, and I hope you have checked out Starr King School, which is the most genderqueer-friendly seminary imaginable. I’d be glad to communicate more with you privately if you want. Full Disclosure: I am a Starr King grad and a member of its Board of Trustees, and I’m convinced it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

    From my perspective of 16 years in the ministry (and I’m an old fogey in her late 60’s), it appears that there are a LOT of terrific young ministers coming out of seminary and getting settled in our churches. Creative, energetic, committed to youth and young adult perspectives, very willing to work outside the usual lines. Unitarian Universalism will either go through a huge generational change and start to look very different in the next 10-15 years, or it will perish. We need people like you to work toward the former alternative.

    Please be in touch if you’d like to continue the conversation.

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